It was 40 years ago this month I participated in my first gay pride march. We were a rag-tag bunch of mostly young, disenfranchised gays and lesbians marching up Sixth Ave. in New York City. I was frightened by the many people jeering at us from the sidewalks who threw garbage and yelled profanities. We were the unwanted and we knew it and felt it, but we marched out and proud in spite of it. We were building a visible community for the very first time, in cities across the country, which have led to profound change beyond (r)evolution for me.
That jittery 19-year-old could not have imagined that 40 years later, she would be invited to the White House to meet a sitting President of the United States, a president that wants her and others to join him in celebrating Gay Pride Month. A president who now publicly supports my right to marry my beloved partner. A president that values me as a contributing member of American society. Jan and I are going to The White House for an LGBT Pride Reception with President Barack Obama on June 15. Unbelievable!
It has been an exhilarating, frustrating, joyous and heartbreaking journey, and the past few months here in Michigan have been reflective of my last 40 years. The same month Obama acknowledged our right to marry, our main political organization, Equality Michigan, suffered a near collapse right on the threshold of an important political season. Right wing pundits with significant political clout jabber on with their inane arguments against what is abundantly obvious – that gay and transgendered Americans should have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else.
As a community we have sometimes struggled with each other instead of focusing our collective energies to advance our united cause. And yet despite the frustrations, people continue to rise above my highest expectations. What has often felt like pushing a large boulder up a huge hill, now feels like a sudden burst of progress and real, revolutionary change. In this historic pride season, it makes me appreciate what Katy Butler said so well in this issue, “It can’t get better if you don’t make it better.”
Young people featured in this Special Pride Edition of BTL, like Katy and Dylan Koch and the wonderful, emerging leaders profiled in the LGBT Leaders of Color Project, are making it better every single day. They are pushing our LGBT leaders, political leaders and are often working against painful social constraints and they are turning the trickle of change I experienced in the 70s and 80s into a deluge. They are inspiring me, and their energy and refusal to be ignored is changing the world as we know it. Each one is contributing, and it is exciting to witness their effective impatience.
It’s up to the rest of us to join them in the new march for equality. Unlike 40 years ago when we were pummeled with garbage, we can now create change in the political sphere, and with that goal firmly in our sights, BTL is organizing a huge petition campaign, collecting as many names and addresses as possible at all the pride celebrations around the state. We’re working in collaboration with Unity Michigan partners, local community centers and other groups to identify LGBT positive voters and we are asking each of them to sign a Pledge to educate themselves on the issues and candidates that are most supportive of our issues. We ask everyone to SIGN THE PLEDGE, pay attention to the BTL Voter Guide coming out this fall and to VOTE on Nov. 6.
When I was marching in 1972, I couldn’t see how far we would come, nor could I imagine the struggles our community would face over the next 40 years. The young people who are putting themselves on the line today will see more incredible change. We can create more political muscle and the first step is for everyone to sign the pledge. Together, we can make it better.